Wind energy: A gender perspective

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The expansion of renewable energy promises a broad array of benefits. That renewables are
good for energy security, air quality and health, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is well known. What many do not realise, however, is that the renewable energy transition can boost economic development and create jobs. Global employment in the
renewable energy sector grew by nearly 4 million jobs in six years – from 7.1 million in 2012 to 11 million in 2018 (IRENA, 2019a). Renewable energy is creating jobs as fossil fuel industries are shedding them due to rising automation in extraction, overcapacity, consolidation, regional
shifts, and the substitution of coal by natural gas in the power sector. IRENA’s socio-economic footprint analysis estimates that employment in renewables will almost triple to 42 million in 2050.

The importance of gender equality
Women have long been underrepresented in conventional energy industries such as coal, oil and gas, whether in exploration and extraction activities or in running power-generating plants. All available information suggests that men outnumber women in most of these workplaces, and especially in technical, managerial and policy-making positions (Catalyst, 2019). Energy is still often seen as a man’s domain, where persistent cultural and social
norms sway hiring decisions. More prosaically, workplace disparities reflect educational pathways and recruitment networks that remain heavily male-oriented. The widespread perception that the energy field requires technical skills above all else, and that energy is
a “dirty” business, reinforce these patterns (Paraskova, 2017). Another factor is the relative scarcity of female role models in the sector, and inadequate mentoring and peer networks for women.

Gender in the context of sustainable development
Renewable energy, including wind power, enables the achievement of key social, economic and environmental objectives expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The triangle of sustainable energy, jobs and gender objectives finds expression in three of the
17 SDGs: SDG 7 (access to modern, clean, and sustainable energy), SDG 5 (gender equality and empowerment), and SDG 8 (inclusive growth and decent work). They are closely interconnected. Achieving SDG 7 is indispensable to a vibrant, clean and inclusive economy.
The close interaction between the energy system and the broader economy implies a symbiotic relationship between SDGs 7 and 8. The gender objectives expressed in SDG 5 shape the way the energy industry and the economy at large function, aiming to make them
inclusive.

Figure 1.2: Distribution of survey respondents by region

The survey also asked participants to provide information about the segment of the value chain to which their activities belong, and the size of the organisation participating in the survey. Box 1.4 explains what is meant by segments of the value chain and defines two terms
– “roles” and “activities” – used throughout this report.

Segment of the value chain. Among replies on behalf of an organisation, 23% of responses received were from developer companies, followed by manufacturing firms (19%), service providers (16%) and operators (15%). “Other”2 was selected by 27% of the responders
(see Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.3: Distribution of survey respondents by segment of the value chain

70% of survey participants were women

of the organisation they work for represent a workforce of varying size. Naturally, replies from representatives of large companies or other entities have a significant impact on the overall results. Notably, however, the distribution of total employment by organisation size is unknown; whether the distribution in the survey sample matches that of the wind industry as a whole is therefore also not known.

Survey participation by women and men. Both women and men were invited to respond to all survey questions, but around 70% of respondents were women. This disparity mirrors participation in IRENA’s global renewable survey (IRENA, 2019b) and may serve as an indication that concern about gender issues in the wind sector is still driven by gender itself. The level of education of survey respondents was roughly the same for men and women.

Educational achievement. For individuals, additional questions enabled respondents to provide information about their gender and educational attainment and background, specifically in technical or non-technical fields. The composition of respondents according to
these various characteristics can influence survey results, as personal backgrounds and work experiences will colour perceptions of both problems and solutions. As Figure 1.5 on the distribution of educational status shows, 93% of respondents had a university degree, with over half of the total holding a master’s.

Figure 1.5: Distribution of survey individual
respondents by educational achievement

large numbers of such workers with limited or less specialised qualifications. The underrepresentation of lowerskilled employees can affect the analysis, both in the quantification of the share of women in the industry and in the qualitative analysis. In
fact, parts of the workforce that are less well represented may have very different workplace experiences and could therefore hold views very different from those of the rest of the sample.

Representation of lower-skilled employees in the survey
To assemble a meaningful sample, the survey captured a broad cross-section of organisations
and individuals in the wind energy sector. However, the self-selected nature of participation in an online survey may influence results in favour of people with a proactive interest in the topic, in this case mostly women with higher levels of education. An online survey, while convenient, may therefore unintentionally limit or exclude part of the population of interest, especially the lower-qualified segment of the workforce. Manufacturing workers on a factory floor or construction workers are difficult to reach, especially in remote project locations, unless an online survey is paired with workplace interviews co-ordinated with employers or labour unions.

As Figure 1.6 shows, personnel in management, STEM, and non-STEM functions (including engineers; technicians; experts in quality assurance, health, safety and environment; experts in law, regulation, standardisation and logistics; marketing personnel; financial analysts) account for about a third of the total labour required for a typical 50 MW onshore wind project. These are the types of employees who may be expected to participate most readily in an online survey. The remaining two-thirds of the labour required is in lower-skilled jobs (such as construction and factory workers). The views of people in these types of positions are far less likely to be reflected in the survey results. Similarly, for a typical 500 MW offshore wind farm, low-qualified individuals again represent the highest category (47%). STEM and non-STEM personnel together account for 41%.

Figure 1.6: Roles and skill requirements in onshore and offshore wind

Employment of women in the wind energy sector

This section opens with key findings from IRENA’s wind survey. A series of figures sketch
the sector’s gender landscape by region, activity, and organisational size. The next topic is major barriers to women’s entry, retention and advancement in the sector. The discussion of issues relating to pay inequities draws comparisons with IRENA’s earlier survey of the renewable energy sector as a whole. The section then turns to possible solutions. These include
networking and mentorship efforts; workplace practices, policies and regulations; and mainstreaming initiatives. It closes with examples of grassroots women’s initiatives in the field.

By activity. Developers and “other” activities along the wind value chain perform best in employing women. By contrast, female employment in equipment manufacturing is below
the 21% average for the wind energy sector (Figure 2.4). From the perspective of assessing not just the number of jobs but also their quality, this represents a challenge, given that manufacturing typically offers better-paying jobs than other segments of an industry (Mishel,
2018).

Figure 2.4: Shares of women in the wind energy sector, by activity

Figure 2.5 disaggregates the findings presented in Figure 2.4. For each major activity, it shows the share of women broken down by STEM, non-STEM but professional, administrative and management roles. Once again, administrative positions are where much higher proportions of women find employment. This is particularly the case among developers and in the “other” category. Repeating findings from IRENA’s survey of the entire renewable energy sector,
STEM-related positions also seem to have a significantly lower female presence than other professional jobs (IRENA, 2019b). Indicating an area where gender equality remains a remote ideal, the share of women is by far the lowest in senior management.

Figure 2.5: Shares of women by occupation in the wind energy sector, by activity

Barriers to female entry, retention and advancement in the wind workforce
Breaking down the barriers to women’s entry, retention and advancement in the wind workforce requires full awareness of the impediments. Overall, more than half (53%) of the respondents to IRENA’s wind sector survey stated that barriers do exist. But this average figure hides diverging answers. As was true when IRENA canvassed the entire renewable energy sector (IRENA, 2019b), men tended to see fewer genderrelated barriers than women did.

In fact, the replies were mirror opposites, with just one-third of men acknowledging the existence of barriers compared with twothirds of women (Figure 2.7). On a regional basis, respondents from Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, and Europe and North America (in that order) recognised gender barriers in greater numbers than those from Asia-Pacific.

Figure 2.7: Perceptions of gender-related barriers in the wind sector among women and men
Figure 2.8: Barriers to entry for women in wind energy, ranked by respondents in order of importance

Barriers to entry
The survey sought to assess the importance of barriers specific to job entry into the wind sector. Of individual respondents who replied that women do face barriers, a follow-up question was asked to rank specific impediments to entry according to their perceived importance (see Figure 2.8).

Barriers to retention and advancement
Once a woman is employed, her ability to stay in a given job and her opportunities for professional growth are shaped by several factors. Women face barriers to retention and advancement that men do not, especially during the childbearing years. Individuals participating in the survey raised several concerns related to the retention of women in the wind workforce (see Figure 2.9). Fairness and transparency in internal policies and processes were identified as the most relevant concerns, followed by some specific policies and working
practices that were felt to be lacking in many organisations.

Figure 2.9: Barriers to retention for women in wind energy, ranked by respondents in order of importance

Selected measures to address barriers
Measures to improve the gender balance depend on specific circumstances. Survey participants support the need to change the social and cultural norms that rule society. Attitudes generally do not change quickly. But organisations in the wind sector (whether
enterprises, industry associations, governmental agencies, non- or intergovernmental organisations, or others) can take steps that will accelerate change, including measures to ensure greater fairness and transparency in internalprocesses and policies to support a
better work-life balance.

In addition, many survey participants highlighted the need to support networking, mentoring, training and opportunities for sharing work experiences (see Figure 2.13). Internships and seminars were seen as less important or effective. These responses echo the results of IRENA’s
gender survey for the entirety of the renewable energy sector.

Figure 2.13: Measures needed to support women in wind energy

The path ahead

Advancing equality and diversity in the wind energy sector promises winners all around. It
establishes greater fairness in an industry critical to making energy use – and thus all economic activities – more sustainable. Women, after all, account for half the human population. That very fact indicates how great a gain the wind industry can expect if it taps into the female pool of talent, skills, and perspectives more fully.

Limitations of the survey
As noted in IRENA’s previous gender survey (IRENA, 2019b), online surveys can have several types of bias. However, as this survey was focused on one sector (wind), more is known about the population of interest (employees in the sector) than would be the case in a multisector study. Some of these biases were solved through weighting, by adjusting the responses to
reflect the distribution of different characteristics in the underlying population.

Table A.1 shows the distribution of known employment in the wind sector (IRENA, 2019a) across locations and compares it to the survey responses. Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean were over-represented in the responses of both organisations and individuals, while the Asia-Pacific region was under-represented. The share of responses from Europe and North America almost matched the share of employment in the combined region in the case of organisations, but the region was over-represented in the sample of individuals. To adjust for these differences, weights were used to calculate global averages so that they would more accurately reflect the regional distribution of employees in the sector.

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